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Dislocation

The boy was probably about fourteen, but he threw the ball so hard it curved. You had to read the curve. Hitting someone in the head was not allowed. He hit me in the head twice. I got to stay in, but my understanding of the rule was that he should be out. In the subsequent games I watched my nephew play, the kid with the fastball always threw at the biggest guy on the other team, because that was what was fun for him, and when there were no big kids left, he’d underhand it. If he would’ve beaned one of those kids in the head, I suspect that yes, he would’ve been out. You weren’t supposed to hit people hard in the stomach/torso area either, but when you can throw the ball that fast, so fast it doesn’t stay straight but obeys the magnus effect, it’s not so easy to adjust your aim by a few inches this way or that. After I’d already hurt myself and was just watching my nephew play, the kid whipped one at a big kid in the opposite corner of the trampoline arena, but it curved, and just stepping out from behind his target was a very competitive ten-year-old who was a little stocky but regularly one of the last kids still in. He took it in the pills, dead-on. Everybody ooohed. The boy went down, embarrassed. The teenager ran over to check on him. He didn’t mean to do it. He was only throwing at the big kids that hard.

If I’d watched a game or two before playing, I probably wouldn’t have thought he was picking on me when every fastball he threw had my name on it. But I did. I mean I tried not to, but he just kept winging them at me, twice hitting me in the dome and knocking my cap off. So I calmly kept throwing at him, if that was the game, getting the other team’s best player out, it’s not personal, no. But I kept throwing harder, and then harder, and then I thought I saw an opening as he glanced away to pick up a ball, and I threw super hard, and the ball of my shoulder dislodged itself from the socket, and I freaked out and fell over.

I mean, internally I was freaking out. Externally, no one was sure why I immediately stood back up and dashed off, as fast as one can dash on a floor made of trampolines. More like cantered. I cantered off, and my sister was standing there and said something to effect of Are you hurt for real? and as I started to explain My shoulder’s out, I lifted my arm up as high as I could, remembering the Czech Republic and the hours I had to wait until they agreed to pop my shoulder back in and envisioning myself there at last admitted behind closed doors of the emergency room and the instantaneous relief of feeling my arm rejoin the rest of my body concert and I thought about the angle they had to put my arm into in order to snap it back in place and I tried not to think about how it took two doctors and the shredded remains of my Morphine t-shirt they wrapped around my upper arm for one doctor to hold as he pulled one direction and the other doctor pulled the other no no no don’t think about that think about the angle, I raised my arm up higher, knowing the pain was as yet not unbearable but remembering how unbearable it ultimately became, raised it up and in mid-sentence of my description of my injury to my sister, my shoulder slid back into place.

Last time, fourteen years ago, after my shoulder was out of socket for six hours, they put me in a sling and said keep it immobilized for a month. I spent the last three weeks of my Czech Republic trip wearing my forearm strapped against my stomach like a fanny pack. When I got back to the states and started physical therapy they said I should’ve never done that, at least, not for that long. My range of motion took months to return. Lots of pulling on big rubber bands. This time I wanted that sling so badly but Walgreens didn’t have the fanny pack kind, just the over-the-shoulder kind, which would be worthless for my intended purposes, falling asleep, as I have woken up before from horrible detached-arm dreams only to find my arm dangling at a weird angle over the side of the mattress.  I wanted the immediate comfort of immobilization, and only when I got to Walgreens did I remember the advice that immobilization was not necessarily the best course of action. 

When I went to bed, I lulled myself to sleep on my left side for the first time in years, hoping if I hugged myself into a tight enough fetal position I wouldn’t roll over in the middle of the night and undo myself again. Usually, I start on my right side and only switch to my left when I get uncomfortable, much later. Often not at all. Both times I did it before, I had been in sleep-on-my-right-side phases, and both times I had to re-learn to sleep on my left. I told myself, it’s cool. I got this. I’ve done this before.

But you don’t have to reassure yourself if you aren’t afraid in the first place. I fell asleep afraid. My arm hurt, and not just in my shoulder. I remembered how in the Olomouc hospital how first my shoulder hurt, than after a couple hours my entire arm hurt, and by hour six it was rolling spasms of pain that I couldn’t isolate to just here or there. So spreading pain was an irksome symptom. I said to myself, it’s fine, the ibuprofen will kick in soon. The pain won’t spread any further. I fell asleep in willful denial. It wasn’t that hard. Most nights I have to debate myself to sleep, convince myself that all the thinks trying to be thunk don’t need thunk right now.  Most nights I have to pretend I’m somewhere else, someone else, doing something else. This was not that different.

That’s not exactly true, about how I usually fall asleep. Sometimes, yes, I do astral-project completely outside myself and my current body, I do listen to my white-noise box fan and pretend it’s the steady hum of the engine outside my window on the 747 and I’m flying just after sunset to somewhere way out west, or over the ocean, and this noise I’m hearing now I’ll be hearing for the next five hours, unceasing and unaltered. Other times I get very meta, go very deep inside my own experience. It’s the surface thoughts, the writer thoughts, that need tamed.

I don’t mind it. I’m used to it. 

Recently my sister posted a link to a Joe Rogan webisode about how depression might not be the chemical imbalance we’ve all been told it is by big pharma. She said it was a must-hear. I didn’t listen to it. Most debates I am interested in hearing both sides. Not this one. Depression feeds on doubt. If I start thinking my medicine is a placebo, it becomes a placebo, and eventually ineffective.  For the past two days I’ve had to fight off defeatist, dark thoughts, which I think are a hangover from the deep fear of the intense pain I’d experienced in the past. I’ve been cleaning pretty much all day because if I give myself a spare moment on the couch it isn’t long before I find myself thinking about dying. I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve got about 80% normal range of motion back already, and after using my arm all day it is a little sore, but mostly I haven’t even thought about it. The fear is gone. But my brain chemicals haven’t caught up yet. I’m still out of whack. I forgot to eat lunch for about four hours today, not that I was keeping all that busy or anything, it just didn’t seem important.

I’ve been watching comfort movies for background noise all day, because if I were to allow myself, I know I could close my eyes, point my mind in a particular direction, I suspect downward, towards the pit of my stomach, to my core, and I would start to cry in a matter of seconds. Right now it’s Wayne’s World, my favorite movie to watch with friends when I was about twelve. Before this it was The Sword in the Stone, my favorite movie to watch, period, from the ages of about six to ten. Whenever I was given a choice to watch something, I’d pick our taped-from-cable copy of The Sword in the Stone, complete with the absurd eight-minute commercial breaks of WGN in like 1988. I turned it on today because it was comforting to think that now that I’m an adult, I can treat myself to certain things, I have certain choices. 

This is what depression is, or whatever the fuck is going on in my particular head. It is recognition of the situation, and taking action. Maybe that’s what the Joe Rogan webisode was about. Recognizing the cause of your blue feelings and doing something to address the real-world cause. I’ve heard that one before. Depression isn’t real, you’re just poor, and your wife left you. That’s why you’re sad, ya jerk. Get more money and get another wife. Also, go exercise. Pills won’t help, they’ll just lock you into the cycle, keep you where you are.

I wanted to write about this because this scenario seems pretty perfect for demonstrating my own personal chemical imbalance theory. My brain does not balance itself well. It’s been two days, dammit. I’m having a two-day reaction to a ten-second dislocation. I don’t think it’ll be over tomorrow, either. 

Think I’m going to watch Deadpool now. And eat pizza. Before the medication, I used to go the opposite direction. I used to watch sad movies and wait around in the darkness. But even if I can’t turn on the lights, I can imagine myself in a different place, in a different body. I don’t have to be the depressed lump in bed all day. I can pretend to be a good husband, a responsible adult, who keeps up with his job and his life and who follows his sports teams and responds to emails and looks for jobs. It’s not me. Not right now. But it’s a reasonable facsimile and it’ll get me through the night.

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I Have No Enemies

Instead of watching the State of the Union address tonight, which feels irrelevant when you live in a world where "No transsexuals in the military" is something that happens at random, on the internet, I watched the new documentary on the Avett Brothers on HBO. Quick review: it's a whole lot of watching them play and sing, and a little context besides, but that's what I was hoping for, honestly. Soul food.

I'm feeling antsy. Anxious. I stumbled across my comp essay for my MFA this afternoon. It's been about four years since I wrote it. The good news is, I think I'm still writing the way I was trying to write, based on that essay, which is to say, opening up my imagination, not holding back or worrying about criticism in the way I found myself completing my first novel. The bad news is it's been four years. I still haven't finished this book.

Before this documentary on the Avett Brothers came out, I saw an interview they gave after the first screening of the film, where the brothers took audience questions. Someone asked how they pressed on after the album they're making during the documentary ("True Sadness") got some less than positive reviews. Seth Avett said he never looks at reviews because if he did he wouldn't be able to write songs the way they write songs. So he didn't know about the negative reviews, which I believed, because he looked genuinely surprised. What way do they write songs? From the gut, from the soul, so they say, which is something easy to feel in their music but also something difficult for a cynic like me to believe.

And yes, during the documentary they do talk about fame, about success, getting out of North Carolina, selling records. Scott Avett tells a story of himself in a lip sync contest at eight years old, imagining some New York record exec happening by and signing him to stardom. They say the things that rock stars say, like my family is the most important thing, all that. Plus they're on a major label, produced by Rick Rubin, who has worked with everyone from Run-D.M.C. to Metallica. Including Slipknot. And Tom Petty. Black Sabbath. Lady Gaga. Seriously, like everyone. That Rubin guy is a crazed-looking mofo, btw. He's got a beard like he's in ZZ Top (he's also worked with ZZ Top) and he talks about producing music like he's leading an undergraduate fiction workshop. I don't want to tell them what to sing, he says, I just want to help them write the songs they need to write.

So, like I said, the documentary is mostly these guys playing and singing, watching this album generate and grow, which is neat. Near the end they show the entire recording of the song "No Hard Feelings." The Avett Brothers band actually has seven members, collected over the years as needed and mostly getting together to play shows, apparently, as this is the first album that all seven people have recorded at the same time together. This five minutes or so of this song's recording shows all seven people playing their parts, Seth singing the lead part and playing guitar, Scott singing harmony over his banjo accompaniment, Rick Rubin jamming by himself behind glass in the background, hips rocking, beard swaying to and fro. They've shown the final few seconds of a recording before, where the artists all kind of freeze, hold still, hold their breath, to have some silent space at the end of the track, and at the end of "No Hard Feelings" the same thing happens. And then those few seconds expire, and everyone allows themselves to move. No one appears to be very happy, although it was a great take. No one except Rick Rubin, who comes into the recording area of the studio, you can tell just bursting at the seams, wanting to tell them how great a take that was, and he tries his best. Seth stands up, says thank you awkwardly. Scott stays sitting there. The other musicians in the band start to file out. The keyboardist, I think, or possibly the drummer, both of whom were in their own isolated rooms, but I think it was the keyboardist who came out last and told the brothers they hit it out of the park, with that song. They hit a home run. The brothers receive that news just as awkwardly. Seth says they need a break, need a breather, need to take five before the next song.

Outside, the brothers look shaken up. The cameraman, or the director, either Judd Apatow or the other director, asks Seth if he can ask him a question, as they sit there in the near-dusk light on the back porch of the studio in Malibu. Seth says sure thing. Judd (or the other one) asks what it is about that song that makes it so emotionally taxing. Because you can tell, these guys look like they just got kicked in the diaphragm by, I guess, true sadness. Seth, the younger brother, starts to hem and haw and try to come up with a good answer. Then Scott says, without looking directly at the camera or the question asker, that it's something he still wrestles with, being congratulated on singing songs like this. "No Hard Feelings" is about dying, contemplating dying, and the release from life's ugliness it will provide (they hope). So you only get to write a song like this by living life, experiencing life and suffering, and that's a weird thing to be congratulated on, suffering, and he doesn't know how to handle that.

Seth says he gets it, and he tries to imagine they're just being congratulated on having a clean take, on playing their instruments and singing well. Scott's like, yeah, but. It's not that. Seth says yeah but that's how I get by, and Scott you can tell isn't buying it, because Seth is only slightly less visibly shaken than his brother, and Scott asks him Really? You just ignore it like that? And Seth says yeah, like what else can you do.

That's not the end of that scene, and that's not the part of the movie that made me cry, but it was my favorite part. Because I know if I am going to come correct in the writing of this novel, if it succeeds, not even commercially, not even to the point where people congratulate me for writing it, but if it simply succeeds on its own merit, than that's the best possible feeling I could hope for. That emotionally exhausted, gut-check, raw nerve tenderness, the melancholy, bittersweet satisfaction of evoking pure, naked pain. They weren't unhappy with the take, they knew it was a great take, and it did the song justice, exactly the way they wanted it to go, but at its completion they couldn't even enjoy it, so much as be relieved to have finally expelled it.

What a strange profession this is.

A much better feeling is coming across an interview with a literary journal you respect, and a few questions in the editors are asked, What are you looking for in the work you publish? and they say Oh well you should try your best to write like this guy, and then they name-drop someone who was in practically every writing workshop with you as an undergrad at Ohio State, someone whose writing you've always liked and whose critiques you trusted and now is enjoying a measure of well-earned success. I'm not gonna lie, that shit is pretty fun, when it happens.

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Popping Bottles

After finishing the last chapter, I was able to go back to my chapter list and restructure. When the reorganization was complete, suddenly it didn’t feel like I was writing a 600-page novel anymore. It looked a lot more like 350-400. 

Having a finished draft by the end of the summer suddenly feels a lot more feasible. 

..................................................................YAYYYYY!!!!! 

In other news — It’s still cold. And I have to drive an hour to get to work. 

Something happens when I drive in the winter. My wife has a tendency to leave stuff in my car. Trash, mostly. Unimportant mail, grabbed as we drive away and never retrieved. Gum wrappers. Actual gum, just, on things. Empty plastic bottles. The thing about an empty bottle with the cap on in a cold car is, it contracts. Crinkles up a bit. The air shrinks. So when you drive for a while, and the car gets all warmed up, the air inside starts to gradually expand again until — PAPP! — the plastic un-caves, reforms, reconstitutes, and almost inevitably scares the crap out of you.

There was a particularly thick and therefore loud bottle under my passenger seat for a few months’ time a couple winters ago, when we drove back to Ohio to bury my brother-in-law. I think it was a Gatorade bottle, actually, probably one I was saving to use as a water bottle later. After the viewing at the high school, we got in the car and were driving away, feeling like all kinds of shit. Everything was especially surreal. Like, nothing was landing, nothing was making a mark. Music on the radio didn’t prove poignant or memorable, it was a gray Ohio day same as most Ohio days. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but the emptiness of significance was palpable to me. It was my old high school, too. I hadn’t been back there since I graduated, but being there didn’t resonate. There was no nostalgia, or animosity, remembrance or remorse. The office was an office, the lunchroom a lunchroom. Hallways felt neither big nor small. I couldn’t remember my old locker numbers. There was sorrow in the gym, where they had position the casket up by the stage, expecting a big turnout, which they got. But outside the gym? May as well have been anybody’s high school, or a dentist’s waiting room, or the DMV.

Then the car achieved critical warmth, and the bottle went off like a firecracker, and my wife and I jumped out of our skin, and after the piquing of our adrenaline subsided — we smiled. And I’m not especially one to see signs, to interpret tea leaves or see shapes in the clouds as runes of the other side. But I could not deny, in that moment it felt like Ben was in the car with us.

Tonight, on my way to go teach, I got treated to a little pop from an empty water bottle. Same after I was done teaching, driving back home. 

I miss him. I wish he’d gotten the chance to read this novel. I would’ve loved to know what he thought about it. Especially the baseball parts. 

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Anybody Else Suddenly In the Mood For Botox?

 Via Wikimedia Commons

Via Wikimedia Commons

So let's talk about this guy.

On his face, I've never trusted him. By which I mean, I saw his face and decided he could not be trusted. Snap judgment, I know, but most of life's judgments are snap, because we're busy people. I'm not actively religious, I'm not in the market for a guiding figure in that arena. I'm not actively anti-religious either, so for all intents and purposes, in my life, my snap judgment sufficed, and I felt free to ignore anything related to him I came across, because I didn't trust him.

Then the hurricane hit Houston this past fall, and since I lived in Texas as well as various other coastal-type areas, I had a bit of ingrained empathy for the victims of the flooding I was seeing on the news, perhaps a little more than other people who weren't immediately affected by the storm, perhaps not, I don't know. I cared, is the point. I was paying attention.

When I saw the story that claimed Osteen's church was not allowing hurricane victims to take shelter in their building, his status in my head switched from nonentity to active villain. I reposted a story on Facebook which referred to a public backlash against the Lakewood church. Which for me is a significant thing. I don't dole out likes too often, much less feel compelled to forward something along, to insist other people see it, too. But I felt bad for the Houstonians! I thought they were being shat upon, in their hour of need, when they needed their community leaders to step up! It seemed to me to be a pretty clear case of rich guy values his possessions over human life.

My sister didn't see it that way and a couple days later posted the first sermon Joel gave when the Lakewood church reopened for regular services (they did open for shelter for the flood victims shortly after I'd reposted their shame). In it Joel says whoa whoa whoa, let's not all jump to conclusions, here. We of course wanted to open our doors, but guys? We're in Houston too, hello? We. Were. Flooded. Too. Duuhhhhhhhhh.

Perhaps I'm tipping my hand, but I still don't like the guy. In any case, my sister posted this and said, See? Shouldn't go casting blame about until you have all the facts. I suppose she is allowed to give me some shit, given she's my older sister, but this seemed excessive. She'd already offered her correction once on my original post (after I'd referred to him as a "craven gluttonous shitpile" which she told me itself seemed excessive). But now here she was again, drawing my attention to the quote-unquote facts. Rubbing her little brother's nose in it.

So. Since the facts around that situation are debatable (TMZ posted what was reported as a video from right outside the Lakewood church showing no substantial flooding, while Lakewood responded with its own photo of their flooded parking garage), I can't be certain it's my predetermined attitude toward the man (liar) making me choose my side. I want to say Nobody wanted to take shelter in your friggin parking garage, you scabrous twat! They wanted inside your building, inside the locked doors! but that might be my bias talking, so I'm going to concede that point. The Lakewood church, for all I know, did everything it could to help Houston's displaced citizenry in the wake of the hurricane.

Now what I'm interested in is whether my gut instinct not to trust him was correct or not. What makes someone untrustworthy? Lying, sure, but you'd have to look pretty far and wide to find someone with zero demonstrable occurrences of a lie or the spreading of misinformation. Just scrolling back in time through my own Facebook feed, I found things I'd posted that now I was like, well that's not true anymore, that changed, should probably delete that. But I didn't. 

I already know if I scour the web for examples of Osteen lying, I'll find it. I'll find it because he's a human and celebrity and you can't be both of those things without somebody calling you out for something stupid you said or did, because at some point you did say or do something stupid. What I'm more interested in, I guess, is whether his untrustworthiness is of the evil variety.

One of the earliest comments on my sister's response post was a hearty endorsement of my gut reaction, saying Osteen is an evil money-grubbing troll and fuck him right in the earball, or something. Which wasn't any more productive than my original post had proved to be. What little I could confirm was that yes, he lives in an extravagant (~$10 million) house. But the evidence I'd expected to find wasn't so readily available. 

What I'd expected was, honestly, a bold proclamation on their website of "Pay us money and God will reward you with success in your life," which is how I understood the Prosperity Gospel, according to its critics. Prosperity Gospel ministries, according to other evangelical churches, are defined by their insistence that true believers are due "not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty." By that definition, I would say Osteen fits the bill, but the article linked above also gives six defining characteristics to help you recognize a Prosperity evangelical when you see one:

  1. The absence of a serious doctrine of the biblical necessity of suffering

  2. The absence of a clear and prominent doctrine of self-denial

  3. The absence of serious exposition of Scripture

  4. The absence of dealing with tensions in Scripture

  5. Church leaders who have exorbitant lifestyles

  6. A prominence of self and a marginalization of the greatness of God

Before I get too deep into this, I should ask whether or not Prosperity Gospel itself is an evil enterprise. We've collectively decided that it's okay to preach about a God that will forgive us our sins, if we only believe and ask for that forgiveness. Is it also okay to include poverty and illness as sins on the list? I can't say no, because I can't define what a sin is for anyone else. For instance, I personally find Funyuns to be an abomination unto the lord, but who am I to judge? What might tip the scales in the evil direction for Prosperity Gospel, however, is preaching that these two particular sins will be forgiven in this lifetime. If you only believe. 

Is that damaging? Probably. Yes. Yes, that is dangerous. Especially the illness part. But is it evil? Well, that's complicated. I don't usually assign the evil label until money is involved. Like, for instance, this book, sold on the definitive Prosperity preacher Benny Hinn's website, which is written by a Dr. Francisco Contreras, seen here offering the opinion that "laughter and music . . . are the most potent immunostimulating agents" and are therefore the two best cancer treatments of all. Which is damaging in several ways, because not only is the scientific evidence offered to back up that claim a link to an article on the same website, which offers a brief explanation how one component of the immune system works (the lymphatic system) followed by ten things that can screw it up, and which incidentally does not mention music or laughter at all, but also, and rather importantly, cancer is not a disease the way measles and mumps are diseases. The immune system doesn't have a singular relationship with cancer's development. It's not kill the virus, kill the disease. Cancer is the result of mutated chromosomes. Which mean, it's complicated. Sometimes the cancer hijacks immune cell development which allows the cancer to spread, in which case a too-burly immune system would be a decided disadvantage.

So, yeah. Selling cancer patients a book full of advice like Got cancer? Pray more! is pretty patently evil. And if that's Prosperity Gospel, the whole lot of them can go rot.

But Osteen's online store doesn't sell that book, or anything resembling it. Mostly it's just books they (the Osteens, collectively) have written themselves. They do sell a $40 bible, but not that book. So is he Prosperity, or not? Let's check the list.

I don't know how to address issues one through four. It's tough to prove an absence. I've read a bunch of blog posts. I've listened to about five recent sermons. I can't say for sure there's an absence of an emphasis on suffering. One recent post does, in fact, remind people that belief in God is not for the good times alone, but also the bad. Number two, though, it's looking doubtful. Peppered pretty regularly throughout the sermons and the blog posts are assurances that no, actually, self-denial isn't all that necessary at all, because if you recognize that this God is a big God (?), your eyes will be opened to all the "blessings, favor, and victory" that are just over the horizon.

Number three, again, who knows. The dude brings up Scripture all the time, and yes it is relentlessly oversimplified, but he probably considers this serious exposition, and I'm sure most of his followers would agree. Number four, though, thanks to that oversimplification, is probably the easiest of these absences to prove. There are never any questions brought up by the scriptural quotes, only clear and potent messages.

Number five, $10 million house.

 Via Google Maps via Daily Mail

Via Google Maps via Daily Mail

Number six, I didn't ever actually register a marginalization of God (beyond referring to him as merely big, which, I don't care what God you're praying to, that adjective has to stay at the bottom of the barrel when you're searching for descriptors). Oh, and also that God cannot change the past, because he is a God of the present, which is probably just a semantic quibble. On the whole, Joel and company seem to be pretty adamant that God can do all things. But there is also a strong emphasis on the self, and accomplishing one's own personal desires. He's having his cake and eating it. It's pretty impressive, actually. In a way.

So. Is it definitive that the Lakewood church engages in the sinful ways of the Prosperity Gospel? Well, yes. Kind of. But they come by it honestly, I think. They do tell their followers that a stout belief in the same God that they believe in will result in said God rewarding them with prosperity (I don't see much mention of health or healing, but he can't hide his admiration for wealth and gold and thereby equating their accumulation with piety and spiritual resolve — millionaires are often referred to with the same respect and admiration as otherwise reserved for saints). But then again, why shouldn't they believe that doctrine whole-heartedly? It's exactly what happened to them. 

I don't think he's evil. I think he's harmful to certain people, to some degree, but also quite beneficial to others. His sermons are filled to overflowing with pop-psychology maxims and choruses of affirmation and hope. I think he kept the doors closed because he was worried about lawsuits, assuming that there would be some sort of liability issue if he allowed anyone in before he was absolutely sure no one could sue him for the quality of his care. Which is a typical rich guy move, but not at all uncommon.

Joel and his family are, I think pretty clearly, rich people first, pastors of the word of God second. I don't think it's intentional, I don't think they're even all that aware of it, and of course would vehemently deny it in any case. It's just... who they are. They value money. They do, but they don't ever explicitly say that giving money is required for salvation. Only your faith, only your belief. Of course, donating is a pretty large indicator of how strongly you believe, so . . .

That same commenter mentioned above, who clearly did not like Osteen whatsoever, mentioned that the "$50 million a year" Joel pulls in (figure unsubstantiated) means he is "an embarrassment to god" and to himself. My sister calmly reminded that commenter and the audience at large that having money doesn't make you an inherently bad person. 

Maybe she's right about that. But that argument gets thinner the more money you accumulate. Who knows, though, maybe old Joel is like Bill Gates and he's got some grand plan for his financial slush pile akin to ridding the world of hook worms and malaria. If he doesn't, then clearly he prefers possessing that money over the good deeds that could be performed with it. Or bad deeds. Really any deeds. Rich people are only rich because they prefer having money over spending it. 

Buuuuut . . . It gets a little thinner still when you recall that Joel Osteen is not the businessman responsible for Microsoft but is in fact in the profession of ministry, of spiritual service to his flock, flinging around the name of a dude called Jesus, noted temple-destructionist.. Good deeds is kind of implied by the job description, isn't it?

Thinner still when you see at the bottom of his website a link and a phone number for "Customer Service."

And when you remember that house.

Whatever. I already told you I still don't like the guy, but that's a personal opinion, one I don't expect you to adopt. And whether or not being rich makes you evil is a debate for another time.

TL;DR: I rescind my statement that Mr. Osteen is a craven gluttonous shitpile. He is not craven. He is a perfectly average — socially and ethically speaking —  gluttonous shitpile.

So there, sis. Thbbhbpptbbhtt.

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Thank god for black women. I mean I know it wasn’t y’alls job to bail us out but you sure as fuck came through.  This is kind of how I’ve always imagined Alabama, is a bunch of overprivileged white guys abusing their power and a bunch of black women holding everything together behind the scenes.

I’m writing about Alabama for this novel. Never having spent any time there, or in Australia or in Papua New Guinea or Vietnam or Vancouver or any of a bunch of the other places I’m writing about but haven’t experienced, I do kind of have to go with the pictures I have in my head. I’m expecting to get a lot of criticism for writing this, if it ever gets picked up and published, because not only have I never been to the border town of Laredo, but I’m also not black or Mexican or female, and I’ve tried and failed miserably many times before to write from non-white male perspectives, so what makes me think I can do it any better this time? 

Well, both nothing and everything. Maybe this will be another complete failure. Maybe all I’ll end up doing in the end is revealing my biases and prejudices and privileges and I’ll be due to suffer having all of those pointed out to me. It’s kind of a catch-22, since if I only write from the white male perspective I’ll be guilty of a Hollywood-style whitewashing of the world, but if I try to write outside my comfort zone I’m doomed to fuck it up.  But I’d rather try and fail than exclusively write white guy stuff but write it accurately.

I’ve thought about this problem for years, perhaps never with more scrutiny than when I had my reading list rejected by the English committee at Miami for lacking diversity. My advisor said throw some more women in there, resubmit it, this happens a lot. I did so, but not without some reservations. It made me think, are we always going to judge the books we read by author first and subject second? If that’s the case, why would I bother trying to be influenced by successful female authors if all I’m ever going to count as is a male author anyway? If I’m reading James Baldwin, should I only be trying to learn from his depiction of black males, since that’s all he counts as himself? Yes I understand that the literary canon is dominated by Caucasian men, and that that kind of monovocal storytelling is going to inevitably, on balance, fail to encompass the broadest possible swath of the human experience, and yes, that broad swath is what I want to write about. But even if I do end up being a successful writer, in the future education of future writers, all I will ever count as on their reading lists is just another white guy.

And I guess that’s all I can hope for, and I suppose that’s fine, but if that’s the case I will feel badly for my female, non-white characters, all of whom I love just as fiercely as my stock white fellas. I’ve worked hardest on them, spent the most time on them. I’ve only got one Vietnamese friend but I always worry what he’s going to think of me if he ever reads my depictions of Sally and Dat Nguyen, and my friend Jason who previously couldn’t tell if I was deliberately fucking with him when I asked him to read a story I’d written about a Mexican-American car dealer, it was so bad, I worry what he’s going to think about Inez and her family, and even my Australian friend, I worry what she’ll make of Vinnie-Frank’s visit to Cairns and PNG and back. 

All of this is to say, I’ve got few scenes and characters based in Mobile, and it’s always the black women who end up dominating those scenes. I’m hoping to stop in Mobile on our way back from this Texas wedding, I’m hoping to, well, not actual meet anybody, I don’t like conversations, especially with strangers, but maybe I’ll get the chance to observe a few true-life Mobilians, just to see how they roll.

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Hear Me Out Now

Every time I write I’m writing for my life. 

This is a novel update. 

I’m on chapter 16 and the further into this next section I get, the further I get away from any definitive structure I may have imagined would exist when I planned out this section over a year ago. The plan for this chapter was essentially this: Thomas and Elaine backstory. I had some prewriting, sure, but in considering this chapter and how it would fit into this spot in the novel I was just like, yeah, that part. That’ll go... right about there. Perf. What happens in that chapter, oh there’s that prewriting you did in 2013, that’ll go nicely. You’ll turn that into something.

It’s not unlike planning a vacation to somewhere you’ve never been, and then getting there, and suddenly your perspective shifts and you know your entire plan was ridiculous and maybe you can still hit the fun theme restaurant but even though the Tower of Fun Stuff is only like a mile and a half away as the crow flies now that you’re here you’ve become suddenly aware of the traffic and how the most direct route runs right through downtown and your backup plan of public transportation is more of a hassle than you’d expected and your backup backup plan of walking there is getting less likely with every square foot of potato skins you cram down your throat.  

But vacations are for fun and I’m writing for my life, so it’s more like I’ve brought my secret crush but longtime friend along on this vacation and I’m planning on confessing my love to them at just the right constructed moment and I’ve built in seven potential perfect constructed moments into the weekend but we’ve already missed three of them irrevocably unless we want to for some reason return to the airport baggage claim so I can say hang out here I need a do-over and then actually find an airport security guard this time who looks like they might accept a bribe and let me set up the man-sized cardboard box in wrapping paper I’ve got jammed into an unnecessarily large suitcase for a three-day weekend and then tumble my own clumsy ass onto the conveyor belt and hope I pop out in just the right spot because as it turns out I forgot to cut eyeholes.

It’s a plan without the plan part but I know the way through is in there somewhere, and so I’m breaking my loosely defined cardinal rule of keeping the prewriting in the prewriting document. I’m freewriting in the double-spaced confines of the Main Document. I have to. I don’t know where I’m going. No, that’s not true, I know essentially exactly how to get where I’m going but I don’t know why I’m going there, and I’m spending valuable time and space figuring that out.  My measure of success is my word count, my page count, and I’m throwing that by the wayside for the time being because if I can’t figure out a way for this section to mean something then I’m afraid it won’t mean anything. I have to keep reminding myself, the how can be as clever as I’m capable of making it, but without the why it’ll only feel empty when I’m done, which I’ve learned is something not so easily objectively seen.

I had an agent read my entire first novel, once. She said she thought I knew how to set a scene, but that she just didn’t believe this was the right project for her to represent, because the story in the end didn’t speak to her. This is what I’m afraid of, now. I’m afraid of perfecting the sleight of hand, but never mastering the magic. So I am writing for my life. I’m squeezing every drop of soul that can be wrung from these characters, I’m demanding they teach me their life lessons, not just the ones the want to talk about, more the ones they don’t, or the ones they won’t, or the ones they can’t, because they don’t understand them, but I don’t need them to because I have a narrative presence in this novel and I am not bound to survive on mere hints or clunky dialogue cues, which are hard enough to avoid as it is, given the amount of influence television and movies have had over my experience with other consciousnesses.

Recently I had my first experience with Agatha Christie, and it’s inspired me to have an alter-ego, a pseudonym to write under, a place I can dispense of all my urges to cleverly plot my way through a story, through a whole book. Maybe not all. But for most of those Ooooo moments I get when I think of the next unexpected thing that could happen, like oh god if I make the antagonist the dude’s father then my whole audience will be like That’s not true! That’s impossible! at least until they realize how inevitable it was the whole time. I don’t need a moment like that on every page, in every chapter. You can write an entire book without a single plot twist, if you’ve got on your super-fancy pants.

Of course I’m never going to be able to swing the pendulum completely that other way, I can’t carry a story with language, that’s above my pay grade, why do you think I’m constantly, relentlessly making fun of poetry and the poeting poets who poet. Seriously, though, I don’t like poetry, because most poets have been taught that writing for your life leads to bad poems, so they tend to err in the opposite direction, they yin when they should continue to yang only with more skill than they had back in high school when every scribbled trigonometry brown bag rhyme held the keys to their souls, I mean for reals though, maybe it’s not the most clever turn in the world to rhyme “inspired” with “tired” but you don’t have to throw out the baby, you know. Maybe clever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.

Clever is writing for other people. Clever is writing for status, for a high score tallied in clever points.  I am writing for my life. Like, literally, I am consciously aware that what I am working on I am hoping one day to be able to look back on as a part of the body of my life’s work, as an accomplishment, an achievement, something that yeah, I fucking did that. Which has the capacity to overwhelm you with gravity, if you let your fingers stop moving, but if you don’t, you’re fine. I am haunted by the potential of a premature exit from this existence, by which I mean before I even get one solid book out there. The other day I watched Linkin Park’s posthumous concert, with lots of guest stars singing in Chester’s place, and about three-quarters of the way through, his widowed wife came out and talked about how much Chester would have loved the concert they’d put together to show the world how much they missed him, to which I thought what a pointless sentiment, I mean I know she has to say it, she can’t just walk out there and say fuck all you guys thinking you can sing like my husband could sing, and fuck all you fans, you fed off of him and his dark lyrics and demanded more authentic hoarse-throat declarations of the pain of existence so that you could feel something close to real in your cars on the way to the mall to work your part-time shift at the Buckle doing a job you pretend to hate but really you’re just taste-testing rebellion the same way you sample my husband’s depression in small safe doses which you turn the volume down on when a cop pulls up at a light next to you, the reality is you like your shit job because it suits you for now because it doesn’t demand too much effort and lets you practice flirting with coworkers hired mostly for their resemblance to the mannequins. What, wait, where was I. Oh right. I think it would’ve been torturous for poor dead Chester, seeing this cross-sampling of talent attempt and mostly fail at recreating the exact magic he brought to this band. The best were the ones who interpreted the songs and transposed them a little bit, singing with their own style. The worst was Jonathon Davis from Korn who didn’t seem to know his song very well, but the second worst were the people who tried to recreate Chester’s presence on the stage, his presence in the song. I know a lot of people quite hate Linkin Park and that’s fine because I can easily hear through their ears what this music probably sounds like to these folks, and that’s this, that’s borrowed angst, sampled sorrow and rage, a joke told by Siri, and to be sure even Chester couldn’t hit his own level every night, but he practiced relentlessly, sang scales loud and bold backstage before concerts like he was Adele, wanting his voice to sound its best over the DJ scratches and drum kicks and low-buzz driving guitar riffs. But when he was at his best, he sang for his fucking life, and it sounded like he was standing there, right there at the edge, looking over, singing out into the next existence, declarative and proud, defiant, afraid.

The Sum-41 guy really nailed it, though. They should’ve let him sing the whole concert. 

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For Andrew

Can we talk about the guns yet?

We’re 800 dead people away from the 59 dead people now. Is that enough? Can we talk now?

Let’s talk about the 2nd Amendment.

I need you to know the rage I feel. I’ve written on this topic for days, wanting to share all my rage with you, but what I don’t want is to wind up saying something like that CBS exec said, that the Vegas shooting victims didn’t deserve her sympathy because it was a country concert and “country music fans often are Republican gun toters.” I understand the sentiment, but dividing us into camps will not get us anywhere, especially if you then conclude one of those camps deserves to be shot. I’m trying not to get fired myself, true, not that I have a job anywhere near as important-sounding in a headline as "exec." But I do work for a very large company that would not take too kindly to any potential PR issues. More importantly, though, I’m trying to keep my rage in check. Because I want this conversation to get somewhere.

I hate it when liberals use that word, by the way, saying that we need to “have that conversation,” like the talking itself is the goal. It is not my goal. I want to discuss the 2nd Amendment with you because I want you to agree with me, I’m trying to convince you that these deaths can be prevented, and that the problem lies in the American perception of the freedom that that Amendment guarantees.

The advantage the NRA has in the argument is that when this issue comes up every few months, everyone looks to them for their rebuttal. We want to know what their response will be, because they are the loudest voice on the one side. The problem is, the loudest voices on the other side would belong to the most recent dead. They would have the strongest opinions in opposition to whatever argument against gun control the NRA puts out there, but they don’t get to have opinions anymore, because they are dead. 

So we hear the NRA’s argument, and we look to the other side, and there is no other side, because the other side is dead, a point that is not lost on us, the general public, we are not stupid, but we are easily distracted. The NRA’s argument only has to distract us for long enough for the general public to move on to the next thing. 

Okay. Calming down. I am trying really, really hard to keep my rage in check.

The NRA's argument cannot be the only argument. They make poor arguments, and they make them at poorly chosen times. They made a statement on the Vegas shooting, in which they made a concession (and therefore made headlines) that bump stocks "should be subject to additional regulations." The headlines tended to focus on that bit, but the final thrust of the statement was about passing national right-to-carry (concealed carry) laws so that people who get permits to carry in one state would be legally allowed to carry in any other state.

If you're failing to see the connection between Las Vegas and the national carry law, it's because there isn't one. It's a poorly constructed connection that I'm not going to waste time dissecting, but it comes from the same brain trust that points to Diane Feinstein as an example of the politicians flooding Washington who want to take away all your guns. And while there are plenty of people in this country saying that exact thing (me me me me me me me me me), none of them are in Washington, and what Feinstein said was in regard to the 1994 assault weapons ban (now lapsed — actually now 13 years lapsed), in which she said she would've made the law stronger but didn't have the votes, so certain loopholes were written in, none of which matter now because once again, the law expired in 2004 and apparently no one tasked with its renewal remembered the AK-47 of Boston in 2000 or the TEC-9s of Columbine and San Francisco and they forgot the Type 56 (Chinese AK-47) of Stockton. And yes, Feinstein tried to institute a new version of the ban in 2013, one that would not automatically expire, which proved to be the only gun control legislation to make it out of committee since the 2004 expiration, but was voted down 60-40 because sixty proud Americans could not seem to remember the Smith and Wesson 910 used in 2006 in Goleta, California, which was temporarily limited to a ten-round magazine between 1994 and 2004 but was afterward freed to carry fifteen shots, and no one could recall the semiautomatic Glock and its fifteen-round magazine used in Virginia Tech in 2007 or the semiautomatic Glock and its thirty-one-round magazine that shot a member of the United States Congress and killed six others in Tucson in 2011 or the AR-15 used in Aurora and yes I could go on and on and on but the point is Feinstein was ONLY talking about these senseless killings, whereas the NRA is using her in the classic straw man argument saying she wants to take away ALL the guns. Which isn't true.

I am here to talk about the 2nd Amendment. To provide balance to the NRA's take on it, because the NRA cannot be allowed to dominate the narrative, just because they can still be counted among the living. I want to talk more specifically about the 2008 Supreme Court case Columbia v. Heller, where the majority opinion written by Antonin Scalia states — for the first time — that self-defense is implied in the "right to keep and bear arms." Being an originalist, Scalia tried to fit every constitutional issue into the frame of reference of the founding fathers. He had a WWJD tattoo across his chest, except the J stood for Jefferson. He looked at the Second Amendment and said that whole militia business in the opening clause was like, just an example of the kinds of things you can do with guns. There was no limitative or prescriptive governance intended over the second clause of the sentence. The opening clause is meant merely to have a "clarifying function." Everyone can have arms! Wait, what do you mean by arms? Oh, you know, those things a militia uses. Oh, ohhh! Those things! Great, thanks for clarifying. As proof, Scalia cites the state constitutions of Pennsylvania and Vermont, enacted before the federal version, both of those mentioning a non-militia aspect of the right to bear arms ("That the people have the right to bear arms for the defence of themselves, and the state"). Not to mention the seven states, including my home turf of Ohio, who enacted constitutions by 1820 — after the federally ratified Constitution in 1789 — which also mention the individual ("himself" or "themselves"). So. There you go. As Scalia puts it, self-defense was "how the founding generation conceived of the right."

I am not here to debate that. I could, but I'm certainly not as articulate as Justice Stevens is in his dissenting opinion, where he points out that perhaps the founding fathers looked at the constitutions of Pennsylvania and Vermont and decided specifically not to included "defence of themselves," because this was not the clarification they were going for. I could go through Stevens' (and Breyer's) entire dissenting opinion(s) and point out all the places where the use of rhetoric pales in comparison to Scalia's, who gets into such a rhetorical groove that he even counts "antislavery advocates" from before the Civil War as members of his pro-gun squad. I could also go into the relatively unsanctioned benefits that Supreme Court justices are permitted to receive, including trips to Palm Springs sponsored by the Koch brothers, and I could point out exactly how right-leaning some of Scalia's cited sources are, including the dude at George Mason University, my own temporary home, who accepted the position of Patrick Henry chair funded by the NRA for $1 million to bring 2nd Amendment issues into the public eye. I have been learning lots of things that have seriously delayed the writing of this post, and most of them aren't worth mentioning, because once again, I am conceding this point. The 2nd Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. There. I said it.

What I will dispute, however, is Scalia's conclusion that "what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct." I would offer the opinion that that is exactly the role of the Court. To provide constitutional guidance as we march uncertainly into the future, and not, as Scalia implies, to just go with our first draft as best we can for all eternity.

Perhaps I'm not being clear. How's this: Originalism. Is. Nonsense. It's the conservative fallacy to its most illogical extreme, the idea that what was considered right once will be right always. It's assigning predictive abilities to group of privileged white men in the eighteenth century that extend not just two or three hundred years, but according to Scalia, FOREVER. They may have been very intelligent, they may have been well-meaning, but they were not gods. They were not infallible. Their 2nd Amendment is not adequate for our world anymore.

***

Okay, full disclosure: I don't want to take away all of your guns. I mean, I totally do, but more important to me than that is the pursuit of happiness, which relies heavily on the individual's ability to feel safe and secure. While I may completely disagree with you that owning a gun makes you more safe and secure, I don't doubt it makes many people feel more safe. I think they deserve to feel safe, even more than I deserve to be proved right.

But your right to a sense of safety cannot impinge upon mine. I was recently talking with a friend of mine online (happy birthday, Andrew!) who came out to say he was an NRA supporter, and he may take some flak for this but he was very concerned about his 2nd Amendment rights in the wake of Vegas. I said, that's right, he should be, because I wanted to take all of his guns. He said I shared an opinion with Diane Feinstein, and that he totally understood my perspective, but he felt differently.

That comment is what prompted me to look up Feinstein, which is what led me down the NRA-rhetoric rabbit hole, and led me to the conclusion that the gun debate the NRA is so afraid of only exists in their own propaganda. But that propaganda has been so effective that it has led millions of conservative voters to believe in a debate (whether or not to take away all the guns) that does not exist.

Michael Moore thinks the 2nd Amendment needs repealed. Maybe it does, I don't know, my interpretation of it is not what Scalia's is. I think the bearing of arms has more to do with the right of the people to retain the capacity to resist their government. In which case, the issue of Net Neutrality is much more relevant as a 2nd Amendment issue than whether or not bump stocks should be legal. But that's not the current case law on the books, so maybe Michael Moore is right. Maybe the best way to fix it is to repeal it. But agreeing with Mr. Moore on anything means a lot of people will stop listening to me, so I hesitate to go that far. I think there are other ways to fix it.

What would a fix look like, though? Well, like I said above, it has to address the fact that I do not feel safe in this country right now, for the express reason that the NRA's definition of safety is being treated as more important than mine. More importantly I don't feel as though my loved ones are safe.

Let's talk real-world numbers. You remember that whole anti-bank protest a few years ago? That Occupy Wall Street thing, where they coined the terms 99%, versus the upper 1%? Well everybody learned that that was a ridiculous statistic, did they not? Because in actuality it's way more skewed than that. But 99 to 1 feels safe, right?

Or imagine it this way: a school of fish feels safe. Even when a predator drifts nearby, the fish don't freak out, they just bunch in a little tighter, and sure the sea lion might pick off a fish or two, but for the most part, the additional eyes and lateral lines combine to make them not just feel safer but be safer, too. A single sea lion has a really hard time catching a single fish, even in a massive school.

But if you have a group of sea lions. Then some dolphins show up. And some sharks. And on the surface you've got birds diving down. What happens. Panic happens. Smaller groups of fish start breaking off. The combined defense is broken down. They panic because they have good reason to panic, because the odds of surviving this encounter unscathed are not good.

Let's talk Vegas. 20,000 people at a concert. 20,000 to one sounds like pretty good odds. What happens, 600 people killed or injured. That's 3%. One guy could cause three percent damage on 20,000 people. Those are not the kind of odds I am comfortable with legally allowing anyone to have in this country. Anyone. Even the most upstanding citizen, even my own mother. And yes, if it were up to me, nobody gets any gun ever again, but my logical side realizes that this is not an acceptable solution to people who use guns to feel personally secure, so in lieu of that solution, let's try to work on something to get it back down to 1%. If you are only legally allowed to purchase the appropriate firepower to damage 1%, I'm not going to worry too much about that. If he was only able to kill 20 people and injure another 180, even with his giant stockpile of guns and legally purchased ammunition, even while firing into the world's largest target, even then he could still only harm one out of every hundred? Would that be acceptable (I guess)? Is that safe enough (no)? But does it feel safe enough?

I look at guns like I look at drugs. In most instances, your possession or usage is never going to affect me. The vast majority of drug or gun users in this country will never harm another living soul with their hobbies. Do I recommend doing drugs or owning a gun, no I do not, the odds of you hurting yourself or someone you love are much much higher, so no, I do not advocate either of them. But with drugs, you should have a right to get yourself a little higher, and with guns, you should have the right to feel a little safer.

My nieces and nephews are getting to be that age where they start going to concerts on their own. So guess what. I'm not going to shut up about this until I feel they will be safe doing so.

Please rebut me, if you have a contrary opinion. I am absolutely not looking for a conversation, but if you, like me, think you are right, but in fact you are wrong, I want to hear from you, because I need you to know how wrong you are.

...I'm sorry if too much rage got through. I did my best.

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Stay Beautiful

I've been working on a few ideas for blog entries for a while. Primarily guns. Also Joel Osteen. These entries will come. For now I just need permission to post something. Anything. This is already enough, just knowing I'm going to post this, but I'll write some more while I'm at it, I guess.

I'd really like to write about people I know. Short biographical takes on the individuals inside my sphere of influence. Just, anyone. Give you my perspective on you. I could do this for just about anyone I've ever met and remember the meeting of. I form opinions very quickly, I'm judgmental as all get-out. I love a lot of people. Mostly I want to write about people I love, but since some of the reasons I love some of these people may not be considered flattering, I don't just go ahead and write them. I'd like to have their go-ahead first. I could write without using names, I suppose, but I don't feel like that's fair, I'm not about to Carly Simon all over this piece, if I'm going to write a song about you I think you at least deserve to know that it is about you.

I suppose I could do it about places. Places can't take offense, and I can name them.

San Marcos I love you but you try too hard. I don't know where the money is coming from — is it all tuition? is this a tuition-based economy? — but you don't have to show off. I know, capitalism has wooed you. It's a phase, it's happened to every school town I've lived in. First in my fair corner of Orlando, the engineering school money came pouring in and the school spent it faster than it could earn it and the surrounding neighborhoods had to try to keep up, new apartment complexes (isn't that always the thing), higher rents all around, weirdly specific and overpriced sandwich shops. Columbus I showed up after the boom, they'd already razed much of the ghetto near campus and put up football-themed shopping venues, but I don't hold it against anywhere in Ohio to take what it's got and run with it, run it into the ground. When I was living in Oxford it was all WE'RE BUILDING A GIANT BUSINESS SCHOOL LOOK AT ALL OUR MONEY and also apartment complexes but the expansion aspect of the capitalism monster was lacking, as it's hard enough to get anyone to move to anywhere in Ohio, much less an Indiana-adjacent corner, equidistant from the most dangerous parts of Cincinnati and scenic Dayton.

But San Marcos. Oh, you charmed me good, didn't you. And I wasn't even your primary demographic! No I was not big into the marijuana, as so many of your citizens and my students self-identified, but I did love the coffee shops, and you had the overpriced purveyors of sandwich but also a more reasonably priced burrito place, you had your own twist on things. And you still do, don't get me wrong, I can't wait to come back and visit, but here's the crux of it: you're good enough as you are. You've got the whole river thing going for you, and you're multicultural enough that no one's ever going to confuse you for Oxford or Iowa City, and you've got some history built into your bones, too. Nothing too ostentatious, like say an Alamo, as it were. It's kind of like that blind salamander species found nowhere else on earth beyond the gaping maw of the San Marcos river, the aquifer that rises from the depths of Texas' bowels where no living thing survives and thus nothing is carried in from elsewhere. Cool that you have your own species! 

...of blind, helpless salamander, so fragile that no one is permitted to swim in the lake for fear of disturbing its habitat. But I'd imagine that to people who are really into salamanders, well, that's just totally boss! And, you know, it's one of those facts that anyone can adopt as something worthy of their pride. Fuck yeah, salamanders! Why? Because I live in San Marcos, that's why. It's called being loyal to your team, look it up sometime.

Speaking of teams. You do not have the history or the location to support yours. Sure the Mets were only born in the relatively recent year of 1962, an expansion club, they will never be as OG as the Yankees, but they had the swell of New York City to push them into the type of fandom that can mean a kid born in Vancouver who's never been to the city, much less the country, much less seen the ocean next to which New York sits, can become a Mets fan without raising too many eyebrows. But like my first school's Golden Knights, your sports teams are an acquired taste, despite the comparative size of your student body. What is your mascot even, I'm drawing a blank, I want to say the Cougars? No, the Wildcats? Bobcats! Is that it? I genuinely can't remember at this moment, and I'm pretty into sports, as it were.

I'm not trying to knock you, San Marcos, I'm trying to say that is the point, that while it would be pretty weird for a kid in Vancouver to become a huge Bobcats (?) fan, I wouldn't like you as much if it wasn't. I wouldn't like you as much if everyone had heard of you. I wouldn't like you if your star athletes that went on to fame and glory in the professional ranks were always also remembered for their time as an undergraduate, like Joe Montana, who had quite a pro career but a small part of his fanbase will always see him in his Notre Dame uniform first in their minds. Meanwhile I'm an avid baseball follower, I do the fantasy thing, I know a lot of players and their backgrounds and Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best baseball players out there and he WENT TO MY SCHOOL and I literally did not know this until this year, 2017, eight years after I first showed up there.

Something else I would like to point out to you, San Marcos, is you are more than just a school, more than just a river, too. You were a home. I chose to make you my home, I did that much, I went that far, but you allowed me to. I buried a little piece of myself within your borders, and it's still there. The point is you weren't Austin, and you weren't San Antonio, but you weren't just a highway between them, either. If you traveled in a more east-westerly track from the center of town, you'd pretty soon come to what could safely be identified as quintessential Texas, but you? You were only Texas-flavored. There was a scent of Texas on the breeze, but it did not dominate you. You had a bar that played live music every night for years, for years running, and it was not Texas music, it was only occasionally Texas-flavored. You had a Greek-themed restaurant/hookah bar that the better part of the student body couldn't have cared less about, but the people that did care? Oh did they care. You didn't have to be weird to feel special, like Austin, you weren't constantly seeking your street cred as a real city like San Antonio, but you didn't feel as arbitrary as New Braunfels, either, like some inevitable dwelling for folks who work in the city but don't want to live there and they have to live somewhere, I guess. No, if you lived in San Marcos, it was because you wanted to live in San Marcos. I should know, I lived there. I was buying what you were selling.

Point is, San Marcos, please don't forget to look in a mirror once in a while and see what good you've got. I know, I know, apartment complexes are great and all. Big shiny buildings are big and shiny, but you don't need them. You don't have to spend all that money right away. Maybe invest it, save it for a rainy day, I know you have those.

Okay. Good. Got an entry off my chest and into the world. Maybe next time... guns?

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Our Apologies

Since we always seem to expect it of non-whites whenever they have a small sample of their demographic act like a bunch of assholes...

Here we go. This is for the record.

I, Aaron Fortkamp, a predominantly Caucasian male, categorically and unequivocally denounce the actions of the self-proclaimed white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Though I feel like it should be fairly obvious, this tangle of morons does not represent the vast, vast, vast majority of the white male population. We view their opinions as nothing short of inane, backward, and utterly uninformed. What's more, we recognize their antagonistic display as an attempt to incite violence under the guise of a peaceful demonstration, which makes them shitty, shitty people.

Like, especially shitty. Epically shitty. World-class shitbirds. Every last one of them.

Furthermore, we would like to affirm that we do know the difference between an angry mob intimidation torch and a late-summer barbecue tiki torch.

I suppose, all things being equal, I should also have to put forth a plea for nonviolence in future dealings with members of our culture. Please do not single out people for wearing obnoxiously plaid shirts, socks with sandals, or khakis when they're not even at work. These are not markers of a warring, violent ideology. These are merely examples of traditional costuming passed down the generations. Like, at least two generations. 

And while I understand the impulse and the intent, I do not believe border walls surrounding New England, Appalachia, the Midwest, Phoenix, much of the rural South, and suburban housing developments everywhere would be cost effective or produce the desired results. Nor do I believe in the efficacy of a travel ban to or from our ancestral European homelands and Canada. These are stupid ideas. Stupid, stupid, stupid ideas.

Stupid.

***

Did you ever see one of those big baseball brawls? You know how those happen, usually one dude gets hit by a pitch and all his hackles get raised and he starts pointing and shouting and then charges the mound or doesn't, but either way the benches clear and the teams come together, all wearing their respective colors, and either a massive fight breaks out or it doesn't. When it does, it's not just the one guy fighting the entirety of the other team. It's two or three guys wearing his same red shouting at two or three other guys in blue. This is the critical juncture. This is the tipping point. After these side-bets get escalated into fisticuffs, then everyone on the pitch is involved, whether they want to be or not. About a third of the people are eager to prove their side the manliest, another third are willing to defend whoever sports their same color on his back, and the last third thinks none of this shit is worth it and tries to stay out of the line of fire without looking like they're trying to stay out. It's these last that result in the end of the fight, the cessation of aggressions, as they disperse and dodge enough punches and create enough space to allow the authorities to come in, the umpires, coaches, sometimes security, and separate the primary combatants. 

When the fight doesn't break out, almost invariably it's because the guy in red got held back by another guy wearing red. Same team. Either that or the person who took the original offense thinks better of it himself. He will never be so easily persuaded by the gentlemen in blue rushing onto the field like a wave. 

I don't know how to solve terrorism. But I do know that the onus is not on the terrorized. We cannot expect black people to stop racism any more than we can expect bombing villages in Afghanistan to end Islamic extremism. Or not even bombing, even handing out flowers and cash and chocolate and sex, that wouldn't work either. But especially not the bombing.

These white nationalist shitheads are our responsibility. I don't know how to stop their hatred, to alleviate their perceived offenses, but until they figure out their own issues, it is up to us to stand between them and their quarry. To get in their faces, before they can get into others'. To meet their volume, to match their numbers, to stamp down their aggression. 

Charlottesville, I offer you my apologies. I will do better next time. 

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Indebted

Apple Music is currently ranked as the highest-paying streaming service for artists, coming it at around $12-$15 per 1000 plays of a song. So, if I want my student loans paid off, I should write a song that will get played....

...somewhere around 7 million times.

Suppose I decided to take on this task myself. If I wrote a three-minute song and listened to it myself and put it on repeat and just left it playing on repeat, this would take 21 million minutes, or 350,000 hours, or 14,583 days, or approximately 40 years.

Alternatively.

Suppose I had two devices simultaneously playing my song. Then it would only take twenty years. With a family plan, I can stream music to six devices simultaneously. That's only about 6 years and eight months.

Hmmmmm.

I'm not sure how the algorithm accounts for song length. If I can still expect the $12 for a song that only lasts perhaps two minutes, then that's only like four years and two months.

Still. This is going to have to be, like, a really good song. For me to listen to it from six devices simultaneously for over four straight years. I should really put some effort into it, probably.

Alternative alternatively: Apple Music now has over 27 million paying subscribers. If I could get one out of every three Apple Music subscribers to listen to my song once, simultaneously, than this would only take three minutes. Or two, if I'm really clever.

That would be a hell of a birthday present. That's two months away, my birthday. If I could write a song and get it up on Apple Music in about two months' time, can I count on seven million of you to give it a quick listen? Or a long listen, I don't know, maybe three minutes is a long time for you, I'm not here to judge. Look, I'll even start a Facebook event for it, if that would help. I would do that for you.

More on this later, perhaps.

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